Mavericks Report #2: New And Old Mingle At Series' Second Concert

Concert closed with Charles Ives' majestic Symphony Number 4.

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SAN FRANCISCO — The vast range of form and expression of

20th-century music were on full display at the second evening of the

San Francisco Symphony's American

Mavericks series on Friday at Davies Symphony Hall.

Conductor and series founder Michael Tilson

Thomas, drawing on intimate yet immense instrumental forces

— as well as the individual talents of composer

COLOR="#003163">Meredith Monk and soprano

COLOR="#003163">Lauren Flanigan — offered an evening

rich in detail, grandeur and the joy of expression.

"[These] composers share the same sense of playfulness and defiance,

the same sense of wonder and exaltation, ... but also a dedication

to expressivity," Tilson Thomas said at the start, striking a philosophical

chord that would ring through the rest of the concert.

The performance opened with the rumbling timpani of Carl

Ruggles' Sun-Treader, which presaged a constant building

of low-end, blaring horns and ominous tones that unfolded in dramatic,

dynamic movement. Two screens flanked the orchestra with still images

of the composer, who seemed to be contemplating the piece's deeply

personal sounds.

Ruth Crawford Seeger's Adante

for Strings contrasted the grand gestures of Ruggles' piece with

dreamlike drones. The minimal string work formed a dense tapestry of

sound that was imbued with subtle emotion.

Flanigan joined the orchestra for German-American composer

COLOR="#003163">Lukas Foss' Time Cycle, which concluded

the first half of the program. Known for incorporating improvisation

into his pieces — in order "to free students from the tyranny of

the printed note" — Foss' 1960 composition incorporated texts by

W.H. Auden, Kafka and Nietzche that Flanigan delivered with mesmerizing


The piece, which occasionally recalled John

Cage's Gamelan-influenced prepared piano sonatas, was almost

postmodern in its use of pizzicato strings, harp and mallet instruments.

Foss, who was in attendance, received the first standing ovation of the

evening as he bowed to the enthusiastic crowd, which included

COLOR="#003163">Grateful Dead bassist Phil

Lesh and fellow Maverick composer Lou


After a brief intermission, Meredith Monk and

Co. performed four a cappella pieces from her opera ATLAS.

Eleven singers held hands on the first piece, and, with their eyes closed,

sang elaborate phase music. From left to right, the song moved in canon,

notes elongating as the movement created a canvas of percolating, pulsating

textures. As delivered to its rapt audience, the movement engendered a

beatific silence that surrounded the delicate and hypnotic compositions

with an almost sacred air.

That atmosphere was promptly dispersed when Tilson Thomas trotted out

Charles Ives' 20th-century warhorse,

Symphony Number 4. Referring to its composer as "a musical and

transcendental master," the conductor noted that Ives attempted to

create music that was "based on music people all very well knew."

As the piece began with phrases from the massive Davies' Hall organ,

the chorus rose to perform "In The Sweet By and By" and "Nearer, My God,

to Thee," which were included in the first movement. As the work

progressed, different sections of the orchestra often competed with each

other, sometimes playing entirely different melodies and themes. Combining

this cacophony with moments of beauty and an extremely rich sonic palette

(which included a theremin and various percussive sounds), Symphony

Number 4 brought the second night of American Mavericks to a majestic